REVIEW: ‘Miracle’ not the experience worth waiting 108 years for
By Jack Gardner
“Miracle: A Musical 108 Years in the Making” is having its world-premiere run at the Royal George Theatre in Chicago. From the mind of former senator William A. Marovitz, “Miracle” chronicles the exploits of a Wrigleyville bar-owning, Northside family set against the backdrop of the Chicago Cubs 2016 season, ultimately ending in their winning of the World Series after a century of waiting.
As a preface, my interest in sports and, by proxy, the Chicago Cubs, amounts to very little. The day the Cubs won the World Series was one of the greatest days in the lives of most die-hard fans, but for me it was just another Wednesday. This being said, at the risk of sounding too cynical, I also want to clarify I harbor no disdain for sports or their fandoms. While I don’t immediately identify with them, I can understand the appeal because I love theatre in the same way.
I attended “Miracle,” now extended through Sept. 1 with an open mind. Ironically, the sports theme was not what I took issue with for this production. Unfortunately, “Miracle” does not land a homerun in the way other baseball-theatre crossovers have, such as “Damn Yankees,” “Take Me Out” or even Joe Mantegna’s “Bleacher Bums.” Each of these examples have a hook that makes them unique and stand out, whether it be a commentary of masculinity in sports or selling one’s soul to the devil, Faustian style. “Miracle’s” idea of an interesting new take is to have a musical which centers on a family of Cubs fans, as opposed to the team itself, during their 2016 season. While this concept is promising, “Miracle” opts for predictable and clichéd as opposed to unique and captivating.
“Miracle” follows the Delaney family, consisting of Brandon Dahlquist as Charlie, the owner of “Maggie’s Bar” and former minor league baseball player, his wife, Sofia, played by Jennie Sophia, a former Florida native and Charlie’s voice of reason, their tween, Cubs-loving daughter Dani, played by Elise Wolf (the role, however, is double cast with Amaris Sanchez), and Gene Weygandt as Pops, the good-intentioned, but tragically absent-minded father of Charlie. The cast also includes Charlie’s childhood friend and Southside lawyer, Larry, played by Jonathan Butler-Duplessis (however, I saw the understudy, Fredrick Harris, during the performance I caught) as well as Veronica Garza as Babs and Michael Kingston as Weslowski, the Delaney’s family friends and archetypes of Wrigleyville business owners and sports superfans. Finally, Sleaze, also played by Kingston in a dual role, is the mustache twirling villain of a “Dave & Buster’s-esque” bar chain, who is attempting to get Charlie to sell “Maggie’s” to him which would allow Charlie to be free of his debt.
The authentic set, courtesy of Collette Pollard, seems as though a chunk of a true Wrigleyville bar has been transplanted right onto the Royal George’s stage. Additionally, sections collapse or unfold to create new areas of the building for the Delaneys’ troubles to flood into. The upper strip of the set includes a long projection screen designed by Mike Tutaj, where clips of Cubs games or flashes of iconic Cubs luminaries, such as Harry Caray, fade in and out thanks to wonderful technical direction by Andrew Glasenhardt that creates the same climate that sweetens every Cubbie victory and bathes every Cub fan or Chicago native alike in nostalgia.
Michael Mahler, who wrote the music and lyrics, and Jason Brett, who is responsible for the book, spoon-feed audiences a story that, while not indigestible, is definitely still bland and lacking flavor. Mahler, a Jeff award-winning composer/lyricist of “October Sky” and “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: the Musical” to name a few, succeeds in delivering a few emotional and even toe-tapping numbers, but ultimately he has only created songs that go in one ear and out the other. Most of the numbers lack a catchy enough tune or memorable lyrics that will stay with you further than the Royal George’s exit door. Conversely, Brett, a co-founder of Chicago’s Apollo Theater, fails with the story, which is plagued by plot-conveniences, nonsensical character motivations and a distracting deus ex machina.
Thankfully, the cast, for the most part, transcends the material. Weygandt as Pops is the stand-out performance, as he delivers the most emotionally-resonant numbers and has the best chemistry with the other characters he shares stage time with. Wolf is also a highlight as she perfectly balances wide-eyed and hopeful youth as a witty and mature-for-her-age tween who spends most of her time around adults. Wolf’s vocal capabilities are especially impressive, however, she is not always given the opportunity to shine, as two of her songs are rap numbers, one being titled “#FlytheW.” Worse than it being almost impossible to make out any of the lyrics, is that the inclusion of these rap numbers seem to have been added only to make the musical relevant. However, it comes off as an attempt to make this musical more like a “Hamilton” homage just to appeal to a younger audience by way of writing music they think today’s youth will like.
“Miracle” is a disappointingly mediocre production that counts on an audiences of die-hard Cubs fans only. For everyone else, it serves as a harmless yet failed attempt at being anything more than a novelty with one-too-many baseball metaphors. Like a poorly played baseball game, it’s predictable, includes long stretches of boredom, and leaves most wishing for more.
FYI: Tickets are $59-$79 at 312-988-9000 or at www.miraclethemusical.com